Bathroom Tiles: Where To Use Them, What's On Trend

Find out everything you need to know about bath and shower tile – which tiles to use for the bathroom, where to install them, and how to give your bathroom tile project an extra-special look.

Which Tiles for the Bathroom 

Ceramic tile is the most popular for bathrooms. Made of fired clay, this tile comes in various degrees of hardness (measured in terms of its Porcelain Enamel Institute PEI rating, with 5 as the hardest), sizes, colors, and patterns. Choose glazed ceramic tile for your bathroom – unglazed absorbs dampness too readily.

Porcelain tile is manufactured using a similar process, but from finer clays baked at extra-high heats. The result is an attractive, fine-grained product that is very durable and resistant to water absorption, cracks, stains, and frost damage. Porcelain tile is also costlier than ceramic.

Stone tile is cut from quarried natural stone. Travertine tile (a form of limestone) and marble tile are two of the most popular varieties. Naturally anti-bacterial and waterproof, stone tile will add drama and a feeling of luxury to your bathroom or home spa.

Glass tile is molded from glass (often with a high recycled content), which is heated to extreme temperatures and then cooled. Shimmery, colorful glass tile is super trendy these days. It’s also quite pricey, making it an excellent choice for small areas such as a wall mosaic, tile backsplash, or mirror frame.

Concrete tile (AKA cement tile) is molded from concrete. It’s available in an eye-popping range of both rich solid colors and patterns reminiscent of traditional hand-painted tile. While concrete tile is durable and hard-wearing, this porous material must be well sealed against moisture.

Tile Trends

Soothing monochrome hues are big right now in bathroom tiles. Soft tones of beige and brown are especially in demand for two reasons:

  • They create the kind of relaxing, home spa atmosphere that today’s stressed-out overachievers crave.
  • They offer a nice neutral (though never boring!) appeal to potential home buyers.

Combine several tile designs in one bathroom if that strikes your fancy. Just be sure to keep them in the same color family for a harmonious feel.

Great grout. Once merely a supporting player, grout now stars in tile installations. In varying widths and colors that run the gamut from sparkling white to brilliant bright red, grout has truly come into its own.

Subway tile continues to ride the waves of popularity, but with a new spin or two. Ring the changes by going for a larger or smaller version (up to 12” wide, or less than 3”), and have them laid offset or vertically. Experiment with marble subway tile, or one of the latest colorful varieties.

Plank tile got its successful start as ceramic flooring that mimics the look of wood. While plank tile floors are still right on trend, this versatile material is now being spotted adorning stylish bathroom walls, as well. (TIP: Plank tile is perfect for elongating the look of a small bath.)


Where to Tile

Now you've learned about which tiles for the bathroom work best. The next question is: where to use tile in your bathroom remodel?

Start with the areas that most need a sturdy waterproof covering – bathroom floor tiles and the wall(s) next to your tub or shower. In fact, building code actually requires a bathtub or shower enclosure to be tiled up to a minimum of 6 feet above the finished floor height. However, extend the tile all the way to the ceiling if you prefer this trendy look; those extra inches won’t add extravagantly to your bathroom renovation budget.

When you love tile as much as we do, you’ll want to use it in other areas, too – as a decorative treatment for the rest of your bathroom walls, a colorful behind-the-sink tile backsplash or a unique vanity topper. You can even tile your bathroom ceiling … in fact you should, if you’re lucky enough to be installing a steam shower.

Special Touches with Tile

Ask your tile contractor to build in special tile shower shelves or niches to conveniently hold your soap, shampoo, loofah and other supplies. Install a tiled bench or a corner shower seat, while you’re at it, for the ultimate in comfort.

Have you fallen in love with a certain amazing (but costly) handmade tile? Maximize a small quantity by using it for a stunning mosaic, border or accent note, surrounded by something simpler. You can also outline a bathroom window or top a shower bench with that special tile.

 Gear$Head (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]/Wikimedia Commons

 Laura Firszt writes for

Updated May 17, 2018.

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